Sunday, March 5, 2017

I Learned to Drive the Truck


The house building process is slow going, our drafter has finished The Floridian's plans and they're finally going to the engineer for review. When the engineer gives us the green light we'll submit the permit paperwork and shortly thereafter we'll be breaking ground! 

In the meantime, we've been prepping the logs that turned into lumber, another post if I stop dragging my heels, setting up the power pole, hooking up to city water and Chip teaching me how to drive our truck, which is a manual transmission.  The latter has been the most problematic issue these past couple months. We acquired the truck last summer and talked about how I would need to learn but our differences in approaching this task resulted in the compromise of following Chip's "we'll get to it, just not right now." In the past two months we've run into a handful of times where we're at The Floridian and we forgot ______ or we need to run to Ace Hardware for _____ and have been forced to stop everything to leave the site - which has been very aggravating, to say the least.  

My lack of ability to drive a stick shift finally came to a head and Chip conceded. This morning seemed the perfect day to fit in with the Sunday drivers - we drove to a mostly empty parking lot and set to work. About an hour later we took to the road and drove past Paynes Prairie then back to our home. Chip reports that I did pretty good. I'm satisfied and glad to know I can be more helpful at the site.   

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Operation Poop Tank Installation


My attempts to write one post a week is a complete fail. Good news is if you subscribe to my blog then you'll get an email when I make a new post and only when I make a new post (this blog creating stuff is hard enough let alone figure out how to track and send emails to my subscribers).

So, today's post is about Operation Poop Tank Installation. Two weeks ago, on a crisp Friday afternoon, Chip calls me to breathlessly share that we got our permit from the Health Department, he picked up the trailer, withdrew $3000 cash from the bank, put in a reservation to rent a track hoe, and was headed to the plumping store to buy the septic tank, 42 drainage field chambers and end caps, oh and was I ready to start digging tomorrow? Um...yes? My head was spinning! I went to work thinking "Yay, it's Friday! Then a 3 day weekend with a day-trip to Webster, FL to meet up with my parents and scour the Mondays-only flea market for treasures." Yeah - that was totally not happening anymore. However, we were going to be putting in the septic tank and drainage field - one step closer to building The Floridian!

Saturday morning - we divide and conquer: I prepare lunches and head to Lowes with Bud Bud (Bandit) to pick up the plumping elbows, pipes, end caps and glue. Going to Lowes for things I know nothing about never really pans out well but this time I thought I had it, plus tons of extra (in truth, I bought 3 types of elbows and 3 types of caps and 2 different size glue canisters because I never know which is going to be the right one).  In the end, the whole lot of parts was wrong - apparently some plumbing is pressurized (therefore thicker pvc material) and some is unpressurized. I bought the former when the latter was needed. Yikes! But it worked out as we didn't need these plumbing parts right away. So, back to dividing and conquering: While I was busy with my tasks, Chip was driving out to The Floridian to drop off the septic tank and drainage field materials, then we met back up and picked up the track hoe (also called a mini excavator) and finally to The Floridian, where we'd meet Chip's dad, to get to work.





The next three days were spent digging, putting in the septic tank, setting up the drainage field chambers and connecting all the parts. Things went swimmingly until day 3 - I'll explain, just keep reading.

Facts I consider interesting that I thought you might too:
  • The Floridian's septic tank is practically the size of a tiny house. Okay, that's not a fact but it does help to visualize the size of this mammoth beast. Fact: The tank was 55" high and 15' long and weighs about 500lbs - that'll hold a lot of poop! A little more on the facts, septic tanks are made of cement, steel or plastic. The steel option wasn't considered because it's inferior to the others. The poly (plastic) tank costs about 200% more than a cement tank. However, when factoring in the amount and size of equipment needed to move each - and you're doing it yourself, the poly tank is a no brainer. The Floridian requires a 1350 gallon tank because there will be two kitchens (remember the studio above the garage has a kitchen). We purchased a 1530 gallon tank as that was the closest size available. 
  • A drainfield system can be set up in a trench or a bed format. The trench format requires less chambers (i.e. cheaper) but then there's more footprint (i.e. more land you can't do anything with except walk over). Chip went with the bed format as the length from the back of the house to the edge of the steep slope to the canal is limited to 45'. We figured the initial additional costs was worth the it knowing we'll have more opportunities to plant trees or a garden. With the bed format, The Floridian needed 56 chambers (4' long each) and 16 end caps. 
  • The cost: $4,012.84 for materials and equipment, with labor cost totaling $0. Chip talked with a local guy that rough estimated the cost to put in a 900 gallon tank (the size we originally thought was needed) at $10,000 and that price tag would have been higher with the 1530 gallon tank. 

Things that we/I didn't anticipate:

1. When leveling dirt for the correct height of the septic tank the dirt floor must be compact otherwise the weight of the tank, plus the additional weight of dirt covering the tank, will throw off the height. Dirt that's not compact is bad news bears. Why would it not be compact? Well, when the dozer and track hoe move the dirt - wait, let me pause here to say: we have beautiful dirt. A few of our neighbors and inspectors have commented about it...it makes me blush; I'm so proud. Good dirt means less issues. Back to the point, when this beautiful dirt is dug up it's as if sifted flour - it's fluffy and airy and each step you take your foot sinks down and your shoe is engulfed with dirt. I thought that walking over the dirt would make it compact, but I grossly miscalculated my impact versus the impact of thousands of pounds of tank and dirt. And...little did I know that Chip and his dad knew the ground needed to be compact - if they were hired workers I would have felt shimmy-shammed. Chip and Manuel thought it would be fine, but on day 3 (the tank was placed and covered with a bit of dirt on day 2) we notice the tank was lower than the previous day, and therefore, the tank's output was lower than the intake drainage field chamber - which means water will not flow out of the tank. Now, more money and time were required. Fortunately, Manuel has a machine specifically for making dirt compact, called a Tamper. Chip and his dad spent the next day preparing (the tamper needed a new engine and some welding work) and the following day getting the septic tank leveled correctly.



2. We didn't pass our first inspection because of the drainfield. The good news was the septic tank was fine (thank goodness). The Health Department inspector, Ed, assumed we'd use the trench format as it's most commonly used and Chip didn't check the Florida codes to know the requirements differ for the two formats (he has since spent time at the library researching Florida's building codes for The Floridian). Chip and Ed talked and brainstormed ideas. The result was to widen the bed about 2' on the south and west sides and add more chambers. The remainder of the day, Chip set back to work digging and leveling until dark and I ran to the plumbing store after work to purchase more materials (my 3 days on the job proved successful training and acquisition of materials needed) - and the next day we were back at The Floridian to finish digging and set up the remaining chambers.





Upon our second inspection, Ed gave us the green light. Operation Poop Tank Installation was complete!






Monday, January 2, 2017

Brainstorming about Our Dream Home

Slide Into Home

Before the existence of Building the Floridian, we unknowingly started with a lot of brainstorming. We naturally like to talk about homes; we are that couple that drives slowly around neighborhoods to look at the various houses and discuss what we like and don't like and say "that'll be us one day." We must look like creepers when we do that. The months prior to purchasing the lot, we found that walking and running around different neighborhoods allowed us to incorporate maintaining our health and notice more details on each home, plus as a bonus, avoid the creepiness factor. It's a win win win! Anyway, the time spent looking at homes has trained my eyes and brain to pick up subtle details, that as a whole, make the home and property look appealing. It's also enabled me to get a better idea of what I liked and didn't like. This past year, my goal was to get better at identifying my tastes so subscribed to home magazines - HGTV Magazine and Country Living - which has been helpful in generating ideas for inspiration.


Pinterest and Google images have been instrumental during the house planning phase. I noticed that searching these websites might require using a variety of words and possibly changing the order of the words to find ideas or provide visuals. It's interesting how "Porches with Columns," "Homes with Porches" and "Homes with Columns" can all turn up different search results, and then even more search results when you change "Homes" with "Houses."

There's A LOT to think about and many details to be hashed out. Before we even bought our property, here were a few of our must haves:

Chip:
  1. Two story house
  2. Craftsmen style house 
  3. A massive garage - for his tinkering
  4. High ceilings - 9' or 10' foot ceilings, Chip's not a fan of vaulted ceilings.
Me:
  1. One story house 
  2. Small kids bedrooms - I want them to want to leave the house as adults
  3. Low maintenance house and property - My hypothesis...buy the best products and we won't have to spend time replacing or fixing things all the time. That hypothesis will probably yield no theory to my advantage other than the negative. Oh, how a homeowner can dream!
  4. A smaller sized home - I want to feel like it's a home we can grow and shrink in as a family (when we have one) and the whole time it feels like the right fit. 
We both wanted:
  1. A house with a big front porch
  2. An open floor plan - I've noticed that people tend to gravitate toward the kitchen but walls can be barriers and we don't want anyone to feel or be isolated. In our home, we want anyone sitting at the dining room table or living room to be included in the kitchen activities and discussions.
Do you see the one glaring issue? Yup, the amount of floors. Chip thinks that 2 story homes give a house character and that 1 story houses (also called ranch style homes) are as horrible as cucumbers (I scoff at his hatred of ranch style homes and cucumbers). To me, one story homes mean efficiency in cleaning and avoids the future statement: "Do not run on the stairs!" and when we're old and gray I won't have to move my bedroom to the living room because I can no longer go up and down the stairs. There's the worrying part of me - already fretting over something that may never happen. I can definitely over think things - and to the extreme at times; it's a bad habit that I'm working hard to break. But seriously, this debate of one floor versus two went on for many months until one fine November day back in 2015 ....

Chip and I were sitting on the couch - He was playing with his phone and I was checking my email and read a subject line that I just couldn't ignore from Houzz.com (I got sucked into signing up for an email subscription from them) - Of course I can't remember the subject line; never would I have thought it would have been important until now...in this critical moment of story telling! Needless to say, it was about unique ways slides are incorporated into homes. I read the email and after a minute or so said, "If you want a 2 story house, then I want a slide in our home." I was sort of joking but figured what the hell, I'll throw the idea out there. The confusion on Chip's face was apparent, because who naturally thinks of having a slide in their home, but not for long when the realization formed on his face as his opportunity to have a 2 story house arose. He agreed and the matter was settled.

Below is my favorite photo from the Houzz.com email.

Slide Into Home
The slide in this home is one of the many ideas we're using for inspiration.

Okay, so why would I suggest a slide in our house when my natural inclination is to worry? Well the pros outweigh the cons - first it provides the most critical reason, it's a compromise. Secondly, it allows me the ability to be 50% more efficient - I can use the slide to transport inanimate objects (such as laundry) as well as myself back to the first floor. Now that I'm typing about this, I realize that some inanimate objects probably won't make it down the entire slide because of the laws of physics. Though, Chip's really good at finding solutions to problems so I have faith he'll figure out a nifty way to make it happen - perhaps a miniature sled - but then I'll have to remember to carry it up the stairs. I sure hope I think the slide is a good idea when we live with it day in and day out. Lastly, and perhaps the most obvious, the slide will provide great entertainment for it's orginal design...to slide down it just for fun.

In addition to the slide, my favorite picture had other elements I found appealing, such as the open floor plan, the exposed beams and the wood flooring. It made me want to see more of the house, which required some investigating. I found out the picture is from Coburn Development and was happy to find another photo from this house off their website that also inspired us:

We love the large sliding doors.

The large sliders were gorgeous, another photo to save. Unfortunately, my high hopes to fall in love with the entire home was not to be. The home was far too big, I didn't like the exterior facade and hated the built-in booth. The booth seems like a fad, that is super cute but I can't help wonder - what do you do with that space when you don't want a booth in your house anymore? My hope is that each aspect of The Floridian is well thought out and is as practical as possible. Yes, we have totally rationalized the practicality of the slide and that works for us.

Since that day back in November 2015, the slide was a big step in getting us closer to what we both wanted in our home. It wasn't until we purchased our property, in July 2016, that we had to get real and honest about which of our ideas were truly must-haves because it was time to get our house plans together.

A slide in The Floridian - Do you love it or hate it? 

Monday, December 26, 2016

The First 6 Months: Part 2

Now it's time to finish telling about the first 6 months and we're finally to land clearing! For this part, Chip did most of the work but he had the help of his dad. Occasionally, I helped on site but I mostly prepared lunches. It took about 2 months to clear the land.

Day 1:


Day 2:


Chip working on fixing the chainsaw.
The guys ran into several other set backs with the bulldozer and other equipment, it's just the nature of the beast. The chain saw broke not once but twice. The bulldozer's right track slipped off a sprocket - think of a bicycle chain that falls off the gear except it's about 1 foot wide and about 20 feet long and weighs who knows how much. As a side note, I never heard of the term "sprocket" until I was reviewing my post with Chip - I thought it was a gear - that sounds like a good word to use but I was told it's incorrect. Anyway, that was a whole days project of lifting up the right side of the dozer with many blocks of wood and slowly working the track back on. Our neighbor was instrumental in helping Chip brainstorm ideas and providing some of his own wood blocks. I always wondered why Chip kept stockpiles of various lengths of 2 x 4's, 1x's and 6x's (pronounced "6 by's"), etc.

Chip fixing the bulldozer. 
Eventually got everything ironed out and down came the 30+ years of invasive vines, the unfortunate trees that were in the space of home site and clearing the pine trees in hopes that the oak trees will flourish with space and sunlight.  In the end, we succeeded in removing vines, trees, brush, many trees and burned it all.



Chip did salvage 30 pine trees for the use in The Floridian - he is still debating on the best way to get the trees cut into boards and on how and where to use it.

Chip's dad, Manuel, measuring so Chip can inquire with sawmill companies.
And viola: The end product of land clearing.
The land with the 2nd burn almost completed. 
This is the view from the back of the property before it slopes down to the canal.



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The First 6 Months: Part 1



I have yet to share what's happened since purchasing the property.  It all adds up to: the lot is cleared. That's it. End of story. Thank you for stopping by. Have a nice day.

Okay, there's obviously more to it than that. It's always strange to me that when I look back on the past it's just a fleeting memory but if I really take the time to reflect there's a lot to say. So, what's happened during the first 6 months? Well, we purchased the future site of The Floridian and then we set about buying a truck, buying a trailer, hauling a bulldozer to the property, clearing the lot and burning the debris. Here's the full story...

First off, we already had a pickup - it was a 2-door, 4-wheel drive 2000 Dodge Ram that purred like a kitten but looked like a bulldog that had been through one too many fights. We didn't care about its appearance as it did the job and it was paid off. The problem was its hauling capacity wasn't going to cut it; we needed a truck with a bigger engine to haul a goose-neck trailer with a bulldozer atop and, in the future, other heavy materials and equipment. Chip scoured his favorite website, Craigslist, drooling over the Cummins diesel trucks that were out of our price range until he found the deal that you can't pass up, one of his famous lines, besides: "I've never been this hungry in my entire life." The truck was a 2000 Dodge Ram Cummins diesel with an extended cap and long bed for $2000. The exterior was in great condition but the interior looked and smelt like a boys locker room (yuck!) and it needed some mechanical work. Chip quickly set to replacing the starter and all brakes and brake pads, changing out 3 tires, flushing out the A/C system and much, much more. The interior's horrible stench and grime-filled crevices gave us the heebie-jeebies so, Chip also gave the interior the royal treatment with serious elbow grease and the help of Febreeze. All in all, Chip spent about a month getting the truck in tip top shape. Now it fires right up to a roaring rumble and is actually pleasant to sit in. By the way, Chip is absolutely smitten with his new truck.
Our new truck and gooseneck trailer.
Next, we needed a gooseneck trailer. Back to scouring Craigslist. Chip spent two days traveling North and Central Florida to land on a trailer for $3000. It needed a couple new rotors and we decided to go ahead and replace all four at the staggering cost of four hundred bucks. In hindsight, the additional cost and time was a bust because Chip could have bought a ready-to-go trailer from another Craigslist seller for $3500. Oh, if only we had a crystal ball.

Chip's dad owns a Case 450 bulldozer that's about as old as a dinosaur. I wonder if it could be considered an antique?...Antique Roadshow here we come! Anyway, it's one of the smallest bulldozers by bulldozer standards and it comes in at a meager 5+ tons. Check it out:

Chip's dad, Manuel, on the bulldozer.

This thing is pretty intimidating.


Until you see a mammoth of a bulldozer, which we happened upon while on our trip to the Georgia Mountains.


Now that you know what equipment we were working with, it's time to continue the story. Chip and his dad hauled the bulldozer to the property to start the real work. I was informed that the bulldozer would just crank right up - cause that's what those old dinosaurs do. Right? Well, surprisingly, it did (would you look at that!), until it shut off because it had bad fuel. In hot climates, fuel sitting in a gas tank (i.e. the equipment is not being used) can grow mold and algae due to the heat and humidity. We learned this the hard way when we took a family vaca to the Keys in an RV and traveled for 8 hours in July in the middle of the day without air conditioning because we didn't know we had bad fuel. That was rough. Anyway, once the bad fuel was replaced with good fuel we were finally ready to start clearing the lot. Super exciting!

Stay tuned for Part 2....it's going to have a video (if I'm able to figure out the tech piece of blogging).



Monday, December 19, 2016

The Building Permit

It's been over 2 weeks since I've made my last post but it feels like forever. I had a dang dental implant procedure and that set me back...ti's life. But I'm back now! While I'm prefacing things I will say that I do really need to update you on what has transpired since July but for now, I want to tell you about something else. We're in the dreaded permitting phase! Honestly though, it's not that bad (yet); it's more about staying organized and remembering what form needs completing or what phone call needs to be made. I have been tasked with this assignment and my heart goes out to Chip because he's biting at the bit to get out to site of The Floridian and start building. And this stage isn't very gratifying because the "completion" of each form and permit doesn't have the same visual satisfaction that the results of physical labor has, such as we when we cleared the lot. To bide his time, and stick to our strategy of raising funds, Chip has taken several overtime shifts this month. I'm actually grateful that the permitting process is occurring during the holidays because it's allowing us to attend family gatherings and ugly Christmas sweater parties and not feel that it's taking time away from building.

3 interesting things that I didn't know about permitting until now

1. The building permit packet is like applying for college - write a resume, write an essay, take the SAT or ACT, submit test scores, pay application fee, ask for letters of recommendations, hope to get 1 of the 3 letters of recommendations back and submit. Yeah - it's like that, they want EV-ER-Y-THING at once, except colleges want you to apply. I don't know that the county offices, as a whole, have any care about you as it relates to applying for a permit. They don't seem to be customer service striving entities and the thought of having to call a county office is mildly distressing and each call is made with bated breath. Though I don't know why I feel that way, when the experience, so far, has been relatively positive. Those I've communicated with have been helpful and forthcoming with information. With regards to the latter - Lord knows you try to get all your ducks in a row and when you submit everything, all of sudden there's something else that's needed which wasn't listed and they failed to mention it. If you're like me, then you know the feeling. Drives me crazy!

2. We have to apply for our 911/site address - this is the number of our physical address. Yes, it's true, we don't have one yet and surprisingly it's seems quite a challenge to obtain this. There's about 6 possible numbers it could be because we have neighbors on either side of us and we've been waiting two weeks for a response. It's the crux that's going to set the rest of the permitting forms in motion. How many county employees does it take to determine what our house number will be with only 6 options? Your guess is as good as mine.

3. The permit requires a Porta-Potty on site. This makes sense but it never dawned on us that we would need one. I called the permitting office and found that if we "just make a note on the application somewhere" that we have our neighbors permission to use their bathroom facilities and then we won't need one. Yippee was my thought until Chip crushed it with "Did you get that in writing?" and I just thought D'oh! now another phone call to make and hope that the person is reasonable and compliant to my request to get it in writing.


The permitting process is a learning one for sure. I've heard it takes about a month to complete the permitting forms and then about 2 weeks to hear back from the county office. I started about the first week of December so we'll see. I am hopeful that I'll make some headway during the next few days.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Eyes Wide Open

The Floridian
I know that I want to get everyone caught up to speed on what's occurred in the last 6 months but right now my mind is mulling over recent events.

The house plans for The Floridian are virtually complete. Our drafter is now working on, for lack of a better term, the layers of the plans. The layers include various parts of the building stages, including a layer to designate where the electrical wiring and outlets will be positioned and a layer for the structure of the home. The Floridian will be a wood framed home with a stem-wall, rather than concrete slab. A stem-wall means the home is raised a few feet off the ground and has a crawl space. These terms may make perfect sense to you or none at all. I'm a novice at this stuff, so sometimes it seems like Chip and our drafter are speaking another language when discussing the plans. Anyway, my eyes are wide open as I have to learn and understand everything to communicate my thoughts and ideas and I have to be aware of each and every tedious step along the way, especially in light of my blog writing. I can now grasp that hiring a contractor has it's benefits - sign on the dotted line and every few weeks wonder "What the hell is going on?" as they go through the land clearing process, then the permitting process, then (fill in the blank) and then (fill in the blank) and then (fill in the blank) and so on. It would be less stress and brain power on my part and I could lay back and relax until I'm needed to pick the color of the house or choose the stones being used, you know - the fun stuff. The big draw back though is that I'd also have to write a BIG FAT CHECK every month for the next 30 years, ultimately spending more than triple the cost to build our home. Yikes! No thanks! We have the desire and ability to do it ourselves so we're going for it!

Now that we had more detailed plans, Chip spent yesterday morning estimating the cost to build the garage and The Floridian's foundation (the county stated we have to start on the house even thought we want to build the garage first). Let me back up a bit to fill you in our goal: build the garage first, which will have a studio above, to store all Chip's equipment and live in the studio, and then build The Floridian. Chip was able to provide a rough estimate of the cost to start building. He was unable to get quotes on the cost of lumber and isn't sure if he will frame out the roof (i.e. build the roof structure piece by piece or buy roof trusses) but he had enough to work with. While he did that, I reviewed the permitting process which includes so much more than I realized, such as requiring a portable toilet on site (Oh jeez, really! How much is that going to cost?!) and we need the Roads department to dig a ditch (in Florida many homes have a water run-off area at the front of each property). I now have homework for the next several weeks; there will be questions to asks, people and businesses to contact and then I'll need those entities to sign off on our paperwork. I wonder if I'll have to do a lot of driving? The permitting office is 45 minutes from where we currently live. I hate driving but thank goodness for the public library, audio books and Harry Potter; they'll provide hours of entertainment.

After we finished our respective projects, we came together to review our notes. The big discussion was the cost, bringing our current state of finances into focus: not having enough liquid cash. The key question: how to save enough money in time for when we need it? We brainstormed some ideas:
  • Chip working overtime shifts. 
  • Me taking a second job.
  • Sell the motorcycle.   
  • Taking out a line of credit with the bank. 
We weighed the pros and cons of each idea and came up with the following:
  1. Chip will take on as many overtime shifts per month as he can. He has been taking OT but not as much as he could.
  2. I will not take a second job, for now, so that I can work on all the necessary paperwork, ensure we have yummy and hearty dinners, lunches prepped, household tasks tended to and, when possible, be Chip's assistant at The Floridian site. 
  3. We should sell the motorcycle. Chip hasn't been riding it lately and will continue to ride it less and less because his spare time will be spent at the property. Therefore, we'll look into how much we can get for it and sell it. Gosh, that's hard to swallow. The bike is Chip's baby - he's been riding since he was 17 years old and he bought this bike in 2011. This is the nicest and biggest bike he's owned. We've taken the bike as far North as Maine and far West as Texas. I'm sure this will not be his last motorcycle. 
  4. Chip and I riding the Tail of the Dragon at Deals Gap, NC.  
  5. Taking out a line of credit is a really good option. We don't want to take on more debt but this is realistic knowing we can't get a building construction loan because we have no contractor. This form of credit won't pin us down to a completion date and will give us a good chunk of cash. 

I don't feel like we did a whole lot yesterday but our research and discussion was important. We took the time to process the present state of the building stage, our current financial situation and the numerous parts that we'll be working on in the upcoming weeks and months. At times, it felt like information overload but I realize that I just need to take one step at a time and be glad I've got my eyes wide open.